29 November 2012

Play the Game

I added this video because Queen has a song for just about everything. But I'm not talking about playing "the game of love," as Freddie would have you believe. I'm talking about playing the professional game.

A few weeks ago, Adam and I went to Brooklyn to celebrate the engagement of my best friend to her long-time girlfriend. Her parents, whom I've known almost as long as I've known her, were obviously at the bar, 4 Berry, where we celebrated. Over numerous beers, a rather delicious chicken sandwich, and a few shots of Jameson (which Adam promptly lost in the street), her dad and I got to talking.

Much of the conversation was a one-man campaign to get me to move to New York, which is about as probable as me moving to the moon, but that's a post for another day. But what it really revolved around was how I was selling myself short, brutalizing my own potential by aiming firmly at the middle. And it's true. Mr. O was absolutely right about the fact that, no, I'm in NO WAY achieving my potential - as a professional, as a woman, as a human being. I have an amazing education, an acerbic tongue (in print, I'm always dumbfounded in person), and a not inconsiderable vocabulary. 

But the truth is, while I'm capable of so much, and I'm aware I am (not to say Mr. O's pep-talk wasn't a great boost to my ego, because who doesn't like being told their a genius for an hour?), I don't know how to, as he put it, "play the game." Rather, I am conceptually aware of how to play It, but something in me just refuses to capitulate to the lowest-common-denominator sense of playing It.

Let me paint you a scenario. Yesterday at work, we were forced to go "meet" the new VP of Self-Importance (Client Relations) who flew in from HQ to press the flesh of the peons. For almost an hour, I listened to a pretty blond woman talk about a) her love of softball, b) how her daddy and "strong family values" helped make her the successful woman she is, and c) that we need to behave like we're on a reality TV show. Standing at the back of the cafeteria, I think the kitchen staff probably found my eyeballs still rolling around hours later, amid the dust and grime under the industrial fridge. (Note to self: work on passive expressions.) I work at a place that processes junk mail orders. They way she spoke, you'd think we were curing dengue fever. 

But more than that, reality TV? REALLY. Really. reeeeaaaally. Okay, what she was probably saying was that we need to behave like Big Brother is watching, which makes a workplace enticing in SO MANY WAYS, but I was rather hoping she meant I could drink Chardonnay at 10 am, slap people who bother me, and shout things at other women like "PROSTITUTION WHOOORRAH!" (My entire understanding of any of the Real Housewives franchise - or any reality TV - is filtered through Gawker Media, so, do with that what you will.)

I have an innate aversion to meaningless power structures. She's the second VP of Client Relations, which is under the Senior VP of the same, who reports to the CEO. And our VP of somethingor other reports to the new VP, to whom my boss reports. I then report, as a temp, to my boss, who, bless her simple heart, looked horrified when I joked that I wanted to throw my (malfunctioning) computer out a window. If you can't tell that someone is joking about that, go back to kindergarden and try relating to sentient creatures again.

But I've never been able to Play the Game. I take people at their word, even when I'm not supposed to. When, at a previous job, the CEO asked the entire organization for suggestions on cost-cutting measures, a few coworkers (and still good friends) and I brainstormed a litany of ideas and sent it off to the silver-haired demon. Apparently, our bosses were deeply offended by this. After closer inspection, I think they were mostly offended because we sent the ideas directly to the CEO, as he seemed to request in the email we received, and thereby side-stepped their involvement, which meant they couldn't take credit for our ideas. I say this because prior to the great Cost-Cutting Email Kerfuffle of 2010, the entire organization tried to foster a visage of accessibility and transparency. The second we stepped out of our pre-determined boxes of servitude, shit hit the fan. Not to say that every organization operates similarly, but there's often a prevailing sense that an employee, entry-level or middle-management, needs to take his or her lumps for a predetermined, though ambiguous, number of years, and maybe, maybe, he or she can make it to... upper  management. Of Client Relations/Reality TV Programming/Softball Enthusiasm and Traditional Family Values.

Even beyond that, though, is that I'm a temp. I'm a temp for an indefinite amount of time, and I still can't understand how that's legal, but it means I have either EVERY reason to Play the Game, or ZERO reason to Play the Game. A co-worker told me last night that she was a temp for two years at my play of employment. TWO YEARS of making peanuts, working ridiculous hours, and having absolutely no benefits, vacation time, or so-called "perks." Fuck. That. Noise.

My honesty is occasionally a boon to my professional life, as on occasion, people in power like to be told the truth rather than what people think they want to hear. But more often than not, that is truly not the case. My inability unwillingness to censor myself when I can clearly, articulately, and not tactlessly identify issues with a project or a concept is a double-edged sword, and I still haven't learned to walk on the flat of the blade rather than the edge. It's not as though I don't know how to play the game, it's just that I'd rather be playing a different sport. A sport that appreciates skill and competence and honesty and creativity, rather than just paying lip-service to these ideals.

Until I find a job that will both progress my career and appreciate my insistence of playing Quidditch when everyone else is playing polo, I'll keep my headphones turned up, clickety-clicking at my job like a bored silver back  gorilla, rolling my eyes at the idea of behaving as though I'm in a zoo, even though I'm pretty sure I am being watched carefully...

Note to my boss: I wear glasses, I can see the reflection of you peering over the cubicle behind me, checking to see if I'm being a good gorilla.